In the current tight labor market, there has been a lot of focus on strategic and innovative approaches to hiring and retention. This is just as much of a priority during the off-season as it is during the summer. So how do we keep working on this topic once folks have left our camp?

According to Redwoods Consultant Meredith Stewart, a former camp director, you want to make sure you stay connected with your former staff members. Outreach strategies can include one-to-many communications, and also more focused one-to-one efforts: 

“Most camps will have a newsletter or social media presence. A first place to start is to make sure that your staff are connected to those. This helps make sure they remain connected to your community, and also encourages them to connect with their peers. But in addition to your general outreach, you also want to identify specific talent with leadership potential, and to cultivate your relationships with them through one-to-one communications.” 

Meredith suggests that the off-season is also a good time to reflect on what you know about each staff member. What did you learn during their time with you? What did they tell you about their goals and interests during their mid-season reviews and end-of-season interviews? Who do you see as future leaders? And if you don't have adequate information to answer these questions, then how can you adjust your performance reviews for next year to make sure you are fully getting to know your team?

Know Your Audience

When looking at how to improve your performance review process for next year, it's important to make sure you are not just looking back. While it's valuable to know how staff performed, and to give them feedback on where they excelled, and where they have room to grow, you also want to incorporate future-facing questions. These might include: 

  • Are they interested in coming back?
  • Are there skills or experiences they wished they had received, but hadn’t?
  • How could the camp better support them both during and outside of camp season? 

Even if these questions were not asked explicitly at the end of this camp season, Meredith says there is always time to let former staff know that you are thinking of them, and you are interested in what they need: 

“I would make a point of reaching out regularly during the off-season. Sometimes that would just mean a quick ‘hello,’ and sometimes it would be more in-depth outreach to check how college, or their new job, was going, what their long-term career goals were, and what their plans were for next summer.” 

Be Selective. Seek Diversity. 

When you are cultivating relationships with former and (hopefully) future staff, you want to make sure that you keep one eye on the individual, and one eye on the bigger picture — meaning the diversity of your entire camp staff. That means having a complete and accurate picture of the skill sets and qualities you are looking for in your team as a whole. And you want to be very intentional about making sure that your ‘pipeline’ represents a true diversity that, collectively, meets your needs: 

“It’s pretty common for camps to hire former campers, and then to keep hiring those same people back year-after-year. There are advantages to this approach — including loyalty to the organization, and a cultural and operational knowledge. But there is also a danger of complacency, over familiarity and ‘group think.’  So make sure you’re not just looking to hire back your favorites — but rather you are looking carefully at who contributed what, and how you can continue to build and diversify your team.” 

It's also helpful to consult with your leadership team to avoid bias when deciding who you want to bring back.

Filling the Gaps

The good news is that this type of intentional, ongoing outreach doesn’t just boost your chances of enticing staff back. It also means you have an earlier sense of who is, and who isn’t, going to be returning next year. That means you can start to think about how to fill the gaps:

“It’s sometimes tempting to think you want all of your best staff to come back year-after-year. But that’s not realistic. And it’s probably not desirable. Sometimes you have to be willing to say that a staff member is not a good fit for your camp. In fact, it sometimes even makes sense to encourage your best staff to go work at other camps for a summer, and broaden their experience. And it also makes sense to combine your efforts to engage former staff, with efforts to cultivate a pipeline that compliments their skillsets.” 

According to Meredith, that can mean building relationships with institutions like colleges, faith groups, high schools or other organizations. And it can also mean asking your existing staff alumni to help recruit friends, coworkers or other connections. But you need to be careful: 

“Offering staff a recruitment bonus if they bring friends can be an effective way to boost numbers. But you want to make sure you are not building an overly homogenous group. Luckily, you can be selective not just about who you recruit, but also who you encourage to recruit their friends. So if you’ve got a current or former staff member who brought something to the team you really needed, they might be someone you want to cultivate further – and encourage them to bring their friends.”

Ultimately, says Meredith, off-season recruitment is just an extension of what you’re doing during camp season too. And that’s making sure you are deeply and meaningfully connected with your team, and that you are building them up to be the best leaders they can possibly be.

This blog was sponsored by The Redwoods Group

Periodically, the American Camp Association (ACA) makes timely and relevant information about products and services available to its members so they can make informed decisions for their camps. However, the ACA does not endorse products, services, or companies.